Joe Light (1934–2005), Hobo # Birdman, 1988
Place mats, glass, enamel, spray paint, on wood, 48 x 96 in.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Joe Light's senses of theology, history, and autobiography respond with two human presences: the "hobo" and the "birdman." They occupy the nearer banks of rivers—our flawed reality—in search of ways across to the unpopulated, pure spaces the river sheaths. The possessionless hobo wanders the river's edge in hopes of a better opportunity, while the birdman seeks to take flight. These two figures encapsulate Light's life as drifter and revelator, and reflect on the deep paradoxes of secular and sacred African American responses to psychological and economic domination within a racialized society. Meanwhile, two plastic placemats—one featuring a reproduction of the United States Capitol, the other, a nostalgic scene of ice-skating on a frozen pond—situated between the two personifications of his quest. The placemats are pressed behind glass. How to partake of America's feast? the piece asks.
Joe Light (1934 - 2005) was born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and spent his early childhood working on a farm. Light’s religious awakening - his conversion to Judaism while incarcerated for armed robbery - changed the course of his life and fueled his artistic output upon his release from prison in 1966. In the early 1970s, after settling in Memphis with his family, Light translated his religious fervor into the painting of wooden or cardboard signs installed around his yard to express his opinions and inspire the betterment of his neighborhood. His practice soon evolved into painting and sculpture, his two biggest influences being his spirituality and the vibrant, bold aesthetics of commercial culture.
Joe Light’s work is in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the High Museum of Art.
Learn more about Joe Light here.
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